Reviewer: Paul Maguire
Is Mitch Benn a cheat? That is how some stand-up comedians describe Benn’s style of musical comedy. In fact, comedy luminary Daniel Kitson went as far as to describe the guitar as ‘the cheating stick’.
Benn himself explains that for a straight stand up comic to bring the house down they have to be an absolute master of their craft, however a musical comedian just has to ‘re-write the lyrics to Wild Thing, throw in a few swear words or topical references and then get the audience to sing along, to earn a standing ovation.’
It is the recognition of this fact by Benn that ensures that he works really hard to try to create material that is clever and intelligent as well as hitting the funny bone. He has described his humour as more like a stiletto blade to the ribs than frying pan to the face.
Benn is a veteran of the comedy circuit performing extensively on tour, at festivals, and at student gigs. From 1999 to 2016 he was the comic songwriter in residence on Radio 4’s The Now Show.
Benn’s show Don’t Fear the Reaper is a disquisition on death and mortality. He performs 11 songs interspersed with his thoughts on stress, eternal life, the meaning of life and on several occasions uncomfortably personal confessions regarding the recent break up of his marriage, the death of his father and his axing from The Now Show.
The songs are the strength of the show. He is a consummate musician and wordsmith and crafts clever, witty parodies in several styles. The show opens aptly enough with a version of the song that the show takes its title from The Blue Oyster Cults, Don’t Fear the Reaper. In it, he asks the Reaper to stop taking so many famous people and repeats the refrain ‘Don’t be an arsehole’.
Benn tells the audience that this show is an extended version of his 2016 Edinburgh show. 2016 was a year when so many famous people died, Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince and Victoria Wood. He is obviously a great admirer of Wood and he sings a heartfelt homage to her, ‘Victoria Wood, Victoria could and Victoria did’.
He continues on the theme of death and discusses famous people that won’t die, the Queen and several Popes that have continued far beyond their sell-by date. His routine on the Cardinals keeping Pope John Paul II alive, wheeling him to the balcony and making him wave with a series of ropes and pulleys and then concluding with a Chas and Dave pastiche on papal mortality is a highlight of the first act.
After a brief interval, the second act starts on a high, a David Bowie parody which highlights Benn’s talents as musical impressionist, arranger, and songwriter. It appears that David Bowie had held the entire world together and it is no coincidence that since his death everything has started to fall apart, ‘He could regulate time and space, with a smile on his face’.
Disappointingly this was the high point of the second act. One is left with the feeling that Benn has overstretched his 50 minute Edinburgh show into a 90 minute two act show that he can take on tour.
Benn is an authentic comedian and musician whose pop parodies and patiches are original and humorous, but as Daniel Kitson may wryly observe, Benn is not as successful when he performs without the aid of his ‘cheating stick’.
Reviewed on 15 October 2017 | Image: Contributed